A lay Catholic group has come out in support of the Bishop of Kilmore, Leo O’Reilly’s position on the ordination of married men.
The Association of Catholics in Ireland (ACI) has welcomed the initiative by Dr O’Reilly requesting his fellow Irish bishops to set up a commission to study the possibility of ordaining married men to the priesthood as well as appointing female deacons.
The ACI says Bishop O’Reilly’s proposals reflect elements of its own recent submission to Pope Francis for consideration at the Synod on the Family to be held in Rome next month.
In supporting the introduction of married priests, the ACI says the growing shortage of priests needs to be addressed now as a matter of urgency.
The lay reform group adds that the move would be in keeping with the practice of the Eastern Rites church where clerics can be married and eliminates the current anomaly whereby in England married Anglican clergy have been accepted into the Catholic Church as ordained priests.
In its submission to Rome for the Synod on the Family, the ACI argued that married clergy would bring the warmth and richness of their lived experience to their pastoral ministry and be well- placed to offer support to married couples and families in difficulties.
In addition to ordaining married men, the ACI is of the view that there is a cohort of ordained priests who left active ministry to marry without seeking laicisation and who could be invited back into ministry. These, it suggests, would bring their experience of marriage to pastoral work while providing extra resources to meet the challenge of the shortage of priests.
The ACI says that the high percentage of priests over 65 years of age in Ireland and the low intake of seminarians suggest that within 10 years many parishes will be without a resident priest.
Already the clustering of parishes has resulted in some parishes being without a daily Mass and on selected weekdays only having prayer services without distribution of Holy Communion.
The ACI said it commended Bishop O’Reilly for “initiating the listening process and extensive consultations with his priests and lay members of the church at the recent Kilmore Diocesan Assembly where a key element was seeking realistic solutions to the challenge arising from the decreasing number of priests and from which these radical proposals have emerged.”
The ACI say that, in seeking the establishment of a commission, Bishop O’Reilly is reacting positively to the urging of Pope Francis who, speaking about the shortage of priests, said that local bishops are best acquainted with the needs of the faithful and should be courageous and bring concrete suggestions for reform to Rome.
They also say the question of celibacy is already being discussed at the highest levels in the Vatican. In September 2013, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said celibacy is not a dogma of faith and “ can be debated because it is an ecclesiastical tradition.”
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